The Late Fees

One night, in the middle of a loud party with blasting music and bottled beers and people all crammed into this small house, I suddenly remembered that I had a movie that I needed to return to the video store.  I went to the bedroom, and on the nightstand beside the alarm clock I found the sleeve that the movie had come in, but the VHS tape itself was nowhere to be found.  I looked under the table and under the bed, but there was nothing.  The bedroom was full of people too, and I shouted over the music to ask them about the movie.  They shook their heads and swigged their beers and just grinned at me.

I think it was those grins that really got to me.  Like they knew something and weren’t saying.  I started yelling at other people.  Someone had to know where this movie was.  Someone had to have done something with it.  I dreaded having to pay the fine, or even worse, the exorbitant fee that the store would charge to replace the movie altogether.  The party kept on, heedless of my desperate frustrations.  It felt like the whole of my life hinged on finding this movie and returning it.  Otherwise it would be that thing forgotten, coming back to taunt me years later in sudden recollections, that one last piece of never finished business, that one drop of corrosive acid falling down the bottomless pit of my stomach, my head swimming, caught in the endless vertigo of that dark descent.

No, that movie had to be somewhere.  In the kitchen I confronted a man with a moustache and a dark complexion.  I was certain that he knew something; I don’t know why.  He began to get violently angry at my accusations.  I felt people crowding in behind me, and I knew that I was pushing the matter too far.  I was going to end up getting hurt.  But someone knew where that movie was.  They had to know.  I kept at the man with the moustache, agitating him to the point that his beer bottle shattered in his fist.  His nostrils flared as he clutched the brown shards of glass.  The suds dripped from his hand.

Still, despite myself I kept yelling.  I felt the people all pressing in behind me, and I turned and saw that they were all friends and family of the man with the moustache.  This was his house and his party.  I didn’t know any of these people.  I was a stranger here, making wild threats at the host.  Hostile faces bore down on me in all directions, growling, seething, drawing ever closer.  I would never find that movie.

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8 thoughts on “The Late Fees

  1. That literally make me cry and I'm not lying. Years ago my husband rented a vhs of 'That Darn Cat' for our daughter to take to a slumber party. Long story short – she left it at her friend's house. I went back over to get it. The girl's dad said he hadn't seen it. He wouldn't even look for it and when I insisted it was there he told me to “stfu' and go. I was so mad, but mostly my feelings were hurt that he disrespected me so much.
    A few days later her daughter told mine that she had found it, but her mom and dad wouldn't let her give it back, because they didn't like -me-. Life moved on and 3 weeks later the police came banging on our door in the middle of the night. They were doing a “round-up” and had a warrant for my husband's arrest for failure to return rental property. We knew we had to pay for the movie but thought we had more time. The store said it would cost us like thirty something dollars. When all was said and done 'That DAMN Cat' for 50 cents cost us over a thousand and we gagged down cheap dogs and cardboard macaroni for a long long time, because it took all the money we had to make his bail and it screwed up our finances really awful.
    I cursed those people under my breath for years and to this day I wished I had kicked that guy in the balls when he told me to “stfu” and go.
    Just saying, wish you had dreamed me into that nightmare so I could have got my revenge and your movie back for you.

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  2. I've had a number of these dreams where I remember a movie or an overdue library book that I'd forgotten to return. These dreams are always accompanied by an extreme anxiety over the whole thing.

    The worst experience that I've had involving movie rentals was this one time my mother had to pay $100 for a movie that got eaten up by our old defective VCR. I think your story has that one beat by a very wide margin.

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  3. Pshaw when your raising little kids & every dime counts a $100 loss can be just as devestating as a $1000, but I do remember back in the '90s paying $80 on my own reconnaissance to have a video store order an old Disney movie for me. It was 'The Three Lives of Thomasina' and my favorite movie when I was a little girl. I thought my own little girl would like it too, but she didn't. I dunno, must be something wrong with me, because even now after all these years I still think that movie is really something extra special but nobody else does. Your mom probably remembers that one from when she was a little girl, too.

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  4. I've never heard of that one, but I definitely know what it's like to show my daughter something that I enjoyed as a child and getting a lot of blank stares in return.

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  5. I read this a few days ago and & it impressed me so much as being like one of my own anxiety dreams, that when I came back just now to check I had the sickening feeling that I hadn't sent you my comment even though I had thought it, and even told K about your post & how I felt it could have been my own dream.

    And in a tiny way this late commenting is a bit like the unnecessary late return of a video or library book, apart from the financial penalty aspect.

    But your experience, WBM, is worse than any nightmare. What kind of a country is that? I'm ashamed on behalf of the entire world that America can be so self-righteous and at the same time so lacking in decency.

    Of course one hears dreadful news stories, e.g. of racism and violence but they don't have the impact of such first-hand experience that you describe.

    And yes, that other experience, of giving unwanted presents. My long-lost stepbrother from New Zealand stayed recently with us for two days with his Japanese wife and we showed them 2 episodes of Black Books, our favourite comedy series, and they just sat there fidgeting. Which wouldn't be so bad but I started to see it through their eyes, as you do with people you care about, and it kind of disintegrated before my eyes as forced and amateurish.

    Anyhow back to the dream. I don't know about you but I can never find anything in a dream, not even get back to where I was before. Fortunately, real life is not yet that bad.

    Always glad to read your vivid tales.

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  6. I've been wondering if these kinds of dreams are common — suddenly recalling an un-returned rental item or an unpaid fine where the charges have piled up due to having been forgotten and neglected.

    I can see it being similar to other common anxiety dreams such as being naked in public or having to give a speech or take a test one isn't prepared for, but yet at the same time it would be somewhat specific to the age of lending libraries and video stores.

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  7. And you're so right; you can never find anything or get back to anywhere in a dream. Seems like one of those Kafkaesque rules of dreams that are just there to twist the screws.

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  8. “What kind of country is that?”
    It's a crazy-making country, Vincent and every day of my life has been worse than a beating or slap in the face.
    25 years ago my brother said word for word exactly what you said about the shame and self-righteous indecency. He left and never came back, but he still loved this country and kept his citizenship and voting privileges. He missed the beauty of our nature the most and it sickened him to the core how many Americans take so much for granted and do NOT deserve it. BUT that's all the bad I'm going to say, because of a certain man from the State Department and another from the embassy of Guatemala who waded through blood and feces to find my brother for us 2 years ago. I promised myself I would never speak a bad word about bureaucrats ever again after that. They truly were like archangels.

    “I'm living in America, and in America you're on your own. America's not a country. It's just a business. Now fuckin pay me!”
    Killing Them Softly (2012)

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